Archive for the ‘horror’ Category


Alien and Predator are two universes that have been aching for a decent tabletop game for so long. The Leading Edge Aliens game from the eighties is easily one of my favourite games ever, and I absolutely love the Legendary Encounters versions for both monsters.  Prodos’ AVP: The Hunt Begins (in its first edition, at least) is a game I had a love hate relationship with from the start.  

Okay, so for this review, I’m not going to talk about Prodos Games, how they completely messed up their Kickstarter for the game leaving several backers without their base sets nearly two years after the game first hit shop shelves (some backers still don’t have them), the debacle with the supposedly faithful first version of the dropship, the complaints people had with the poorly mixed resin in the first batch of figures, or any of the other myriad problems people have with them, and instead look at the game itself.


So, let’s assume Prodos are a bunch of okay dudes, and that you’ve just seen this game on the shelf, you’re a fan of Alien, Predator and or AVP, and you want to know whether or not the game is worth buying.  The answer is, a little annoyingly, yes, it absolutely is.  

All the complaints I had about the first edition of this game have been completely resolved by this second version.  The holes in the combat system that previously you could drive a Colonial Marines APC through have been completely patched, leaving a combat system that is – while perhaps a little over complex by modern standards – perfectly good at reflecting corridor fighting between the three factions.  It’s also completely rectified the stupid errors that snuck in (like the Aliens being susceptible to their own acid blood splatter; seriously, what was that about?). 

The points build system now actually makes sense, as a quick glance at the first edition rule book would show you that the forces contained in the starter set were, in fact, completely unbalanced.  Lastly, the Predator Smart-Disc has been given a proper Nerfing, which is great, because that thing was ridiculously overpowered.  


So, the game is set about the USS Theseus, a ship that is being used by the Predators as a spawning ground for Aliens for them to hunt, and then some Colonial Marines show up, and the shit hits the fan.  It’s a contrived set-up, but no-one really cares about the story for a frag-fest, and you can always come up with your own background if you want.  It doesn’t change anything on the tabletop.  

In terms of components, the rule book – while still far from perfect – is light years ahead of the first edition, so I can’t not be satisfied with it.  Errors are corrected, stats are fixed, and you can (usually) find what you’re looking for while you’re playing.  Some goofs and ambiguities exist, but nothing that you can’t house rule, or find an answer to on the superb online fandom the game has, especially on Facebook.  


The board sections I’m not so sold on. The original were grim and dark, much lie the colony in Aliens. These are a lot brighter, which is partly a good thing, as the originals were sometimes a little too dark, but the upshot is that they look a little more comic book like by comparison.  
The minis are bloody superb. All single cast, so there’s no assembly required, and super easy to paint. As a bonus, the scenic bases they’re mounted on are simply excellent.


Players use the starting forces, or points build a force of either Aliens, Predators or Marines, set the map up, find out what their missions are, and then set to it.  The game, once you get it underway, is very fast paced, with players taking it turns to activate one model and acting with them, before passing onto the the next player.  In terms of action and pacing, it’s much like something like Heroclix, and fans of that game would be likely to enjoy this one, too.  

AVP: The Hunt Begins is a weird one, because in terms of complexity, it’s easily up there with a proper wargame, such as Warhammer 40,000.  The options available to you are just as varied, for sure, and it’s a game you can really sink your teeth into it.  Want to build a campaign?  You can.  Want a one off rumble with some Predators against an AI Alien force.  You can do that.  You can make this an RPG or a frag-fest.  The extra minis available are superb, too, and who isn’t going to want to bolster their force with an Alien Queen or a Power Loader?

Ultimately, if you been holding off until now, or want to upgrade your first edition set to its full potential, this is the game you want.

The first expansion set for All Out War feels like a bit of a backward step. It is a little unusual in that you don’t need a copy of the main box in order to play it, but the rulebook included is almost a carbon copy of the “Read this first” quick start rules that come with the core set. Looks like a cash-in at first, as this is the only way to get a “Governer” character for the game, but in the context of the comics theme that Mantic have implemented so well it makes perfect sense! What I hadn’t realised until recently was that the release schedule for AOW is based around graphic novel order, which makes this set a prequel of sorts, being as it is based around the two prequel novels, “The Road to Woodbury” and “Rise of the Governer”.


The solo rule set takes the form of a step-by-step introduction to playing AOW. Over the course of three scenarios, rules are gradually added in to ease a beginner into the game, starting with no guns and limited actions and leading up to nearly the full rule system. The box includes full sets of event, equipment and supply cards (themed for a solo game), dice, templates, scenery and range ruler, counters, 5 walkers and reference card, and a Brian Blake model and survivor card.


“Hang on,” I hear you cry, “But surely the Governer’s name is Philip Blake…?” 

This is true. And also not true. If you haven’t read the novels, I suggest you start there, as the scenarios are based on the pre-Governer days of Brian Blake contained within these very accessible tomes. (The stories are actually quite good, even if the concept of the walkers in the books leaves a little to be desired) The game doesn’t give away any spoilers, and doesn’t require you to read the books, but it adds to the flavour if you have. 


The first scenario starts with a very basic setup, a defined 10″ square (I used some of my Battle Systems clip-together card terrain for this), three walkers, three supply counters and Brian. The event deck is slightly limited, as is the supply deck (guns are removed) by the presence of a walker symbol in the top right corner, exactly like the quick start rules in the core box. In fact this is the same scenario as the first one in that book, but with one character instead of two. The rules introduce us to the basic turn sequence and key concepts (NOISE, threat, and walker movement), as well as the melee combat system, and basic actions.It’s a pretty straight forward gear-grab, with pretty limited options, and barring some horrendous dice rolls you should breeze through this one. You start with no equipment, so your first face-off with a walker is pretty daunting, but once you pick up a weapon from the supply deck you begin to feel a little safer. My first pick up was a tire iron (one extra white dice in combat – nice!) and it was pretty easy going from there. If you’re careful you can reach a supply counter without getting grabbed by one of the dead, but some of the event cards force them towards you so it’s unlikely. With a low threat level and small playing area, this scenario is over pretty quickly. So it’s on to part two.


Scenario 2 widens the play area to 15″ square (time to re-clip that terrain…), and adds scenery, the rest of the supply cards (the gun and ammo), and rules for shooting, MAYHEM and the “Hold Nerve” action. Once again, it’s a grab the supplies and run game, but this time you start with a weapon and there are five supply counters to collect. I was expecting to breeze through this one too, but a couple of dodgy dice rolls (where the hell are the head shots when you need them!?) left me constantly trying to get away from walkers, which dragged the game out over a few extra turns until the threat maxed out. You lose!!!! Tougher than it looked, the relentless rise of the threat level is a killer mechanic. It goes up when MAYHEM is caused, usually through gunfire, when there are models engaged in melee at the start of the melee phase, and via the event cards. The only way to bring it down is to Hold Nerve, which takes an action and reduces threat by one on a 50-50 dice roll! Certainly puts the player up against it! So let’s see how part three goes.


Scenario Three uses the same play area size and game components, and adds rules for equipment slots, the make NOISE action, and being bitten! But at least this time you get to go tooled up with a full set of equipment: Gun, knife, leather jacket and bandages. During this game Brian has to capture four walkers and bundle them onto his truck, rules for which are supplied as scenario-specific. After set-up and a couple of turns, during which I had captured two walkers and unceremoniously dumped them into the waiting vehicle, I began to think this one would be a push-over. 

Oh no. 

Another few turns in, with walkers piling into the game via the event cards, the threat level rocketing, and dragging a struggling walker halfway round the playing area to avoid the shambling onslaught, I was bitten! I got a third walker in the truck, but time, walkers and infection overcame me, and the threat maxed out again. Game over.


Overall it was a reasonable experience. The third scenario was interesting with it’s capture not kill idea, and it’s good to get “The Governor” as a character, even if he is a shadow of the madman to come. And the five walkers included are all original, so no doubles yet! But there are plenty of niggles. While the rules build up over time, they never get to the complete rule set found in the core set, and even at the end still feel like a beginner set. I had to refer to the main rules for a clarification at one point, something I wouldn’t expect to do with a stand alone box. Where there is a standard set of dice added you are supplied with a panic dice which there are no rules for here. The “Solo” event deck is mainly a re-worded pack with one different card. The supply deck is a half size pack with one different weapon, and has “keywords” included, which again have no rules in this box. For me, it really needed to include a few more differences.

 So would I recommend it? For an absolute beginner the gradual building of the rules works well. As in the main rule book it is well laid out, with plenty of tutorial side bars to explain what’s going on. But once you work through it you will want to get the main box anyway to play with the complete rules. If you already own the core set it will feel like a step back, rather than a separate entity, as you will have a near carbon copy of the rules. It might be best to look at it as a large booster pack with the extra accessories to keep as spares as well as the miniatures. But it’s going to feel a little pricey on that front.

As an aside, I’d like to say R.I.P. George A. Romero, without whom (despite his opinion of The Walking Dead!) none of this would have existed.

Officially in mourning. 

David Mustill

I would like to be upfront from the start: I am not the biggest fan of Mantic games. Their multi-part plastic miniatures are durable, but fairly basic, and playing Kings of War felt like a more simplistic Warhammer. So far not good, and as first impressions last, I have not had any call to go back to check out any of their other products. So, then, they go and get the I.P. for the comics version of The Walking Dead. One of the best comic series of all time, loved by millions, it takes a brave move to attempt to bring it to the tabletop. Can they put out a decent game, as well as keping fans on side?

The short answer is: Abso-bloody-lutely!

Mantic have kept the rules simple, a basic skirmish level game with the now-obligatory custom dice, card events, and A.I. walkers to enable both solo and multi-player games. The starter box comes with everything you need to get going. A 20″ square coated paper gaming mat, eighteen miniatures, eleven dice, over forty cards, ten flat card scenery counters, a custom range ruler, thirty counters/tokens, kill zone marker and threat tracker. The miniatures are all single piece, so the only assembly required is the pointer in the threat tracker. Box to table time is about five minutes!


Once you’re there, what joys await you? There are actually two rulebooks in the set, the main book and the “Read Me First” quick-start rules. These start with a basic version of the game, and over two scenarios add new concepts and rules to bring beginners up to speed: perfect for the comics fan making his first foray into the tabletop world. Your hardened gamer will want to head straight for the main book, however. You will find four clearly defined phases (Action, Event, Melee, End), underpinned by two key concepts: Noise, and Threat. It is well worth taking the time to get your head round these, as they will colour everything you do in the game. 

In a similar way to Zombicide, noise is what drives the walking dead to move around the table and attack the living. There are two levels, NOISE, and MAYHEM. NOISE is caused by running, the “Make NOISE” action, or the “Scream!” action on the panic dice (more on this later), and will attract the nearest walker within 10″. MAYHEM is usually caused by gunfire, and will attract ALL walkers within 10″! There are ways to avoid the noise, by sneaking for example, but in a deviously simple twist of the rules, walkers start with their bases touching the scattered supply counters (your basic objectives), which prevents you from picking them up! Therefore choosing when and where to make noise becomes critical, requiring a balance between getting the supplies before your opponent and not getting swamped by the living dead.


Threat represents the mounting tension and danger as the game progresses, and works as a game mechanic driver and a timer. The threat tracker is numbered from 1 to 18, and divided up into four sections: All Quiet (1-3); Low(4-8);Medium (9-13); and High (14-18). As the game goes on, the threat level will rise quickly (sometimes alarmingly so!), and if it reaches 18, the game ends. In the meantime, if the level goes above one of your Survivor’s “Nerve” score, they panic, and can only be activated via the use of the Panic Dice. This is a six-sider with 5 available results, from a straight run away or quiet action only, to screaming like a schoolboy or going bananas and attacking the nearest walker with the strength of a madman! Threat level can go down as well as up, but this is pretty rare, and only brought about by a concious decision to calm everything down.

Setup is very straight forward and scenario based. There is only one scenario in the main book:-choose survivors, place scenery, place supplies, place walkers, go! Choosing survivors proves to be the only slightly confusing part of the process. Each character card has slots surrounding it to represent the amount of equipment they can carry and where, but the starter set is fairly limited and the only instruction is to play to a points value. The points values only seem to even out in one particular configuration with the cards available, and with only one of each weapon in the box this could seriously limit replay value. However, this is a starter set, so until you have some expansions just try not to get into an argument over who gets what! The number of walkers on the board at the start of the game is based on the points value of the survivor teams, so this can easily scale up or down as required.


The turn sequence feels slightly jarring at first to a seasoned tabletop skirmish player. The Action phase handles survivor movement and shooting, as well as hiding, searching, trading items, or making game specific actions (Make NOISE, Hold Your Nerve, Special Action). but not hand-to-hand combat. The separate Melee phase handles this, and after a couple of turns it becomes obvious that this is a big part of the mechanic that drives the game. Once the survivors have had their turn (two actions each, but must be two different actions), the Event phase determines if you have been unfortunate enough to get too close to the dead. A handy Kill Zone template is placed over each walker in turn, and if a survivor is within the template radius it will lunge into close combat. This phase ends with the drawing of an event card which may have different results depending on the current threat level. Once this has been dealt with, it’s on to Melee. This is probably the most complicated part of the system, but again, after a couple of turns it seems to work itself out. The melee itself is easy, but working out who fights who, whether to attack or defend, and the order of combat is a bit fiddly at first. 

All combat, ranged and close, is handled with the custom dice, with different colours having differing strengths. Character and equipment cards will give you your dice pool, with the same colours being used for attack or defence, with a straight roll-off to determine the winner. The difference in the number of successes gives the amount of damage taken by survivors, but walkers only have one point of damage and are immediately knocked down… only to get back up again in subsequent turns! This can only be stopped by head shots. Some of the dice faces have an exclamation mark on them to denote headshots. One of these lets you take out a walker, as long as you cause damage. Against survivors, they do extra damage, and if you kill a chartacter with one they won’t be re-animating any time soon. Oh yes, if a survivor is killed but not “dealt with”, they will be returning as a fresh walking corpse to attack the living! If a walker scores a headshot the character has been bitten, and the resulting infection speeds him or her to their early (but temporary) grave. 


As mentioned before, all walker movement is reactionary. The rules are fairly simple on this, it all comes down to “eligible” walkers, those not prone or touching a character’s base at the point when they are activated. The dead will only respond to action on the table or cards in the event phase, but this means they can actually move at any time, not just in the action phase. Too much noise in the melee phase therefore can lead to more and more walkers swamping your characters, which can be very bad news when you can only declare one attack per phase (all other combats will be defensive), and walker dice ramp up exponentially for each additional corpse in the fray! 

Most of the other happenings in the game are determined by a throw of the black Action Dice. 3 blank faces and 3 badge icons give you a 50-50 chance (effectively a D2 or coin-flip) on anything you want to do that’s not covered by the rules, plus a few of the basic actions. While it does feel a bit simplistic, there’s no denying it makes decision making easier, and keeps the game moving on at a rapid rate.


Overall, this game wins for me on both fronts. The very basic gameplay keeps it fun, but the rapidly rising threat and brilliantly simple walker mechanic keep the tension high at all times. No character is too powerful, even the important ones. In my first game, Rick Grimes died in turn three, only to re-animate and proceed to chase Carl around the map until the last turn ticked over. Thus ruining The Walking Dead continuity forever… What appears at first to be a simplistic turn sequence is actually quite cleverly designed to create the feel of the Walking Dead comics, with a lingering threat hanging over everything, and a corpse ready to reach out and bite you at any time. The comic art is used throughout, unsurprisingly, with everything from cards to miniatures adding to the theme, and for me the figures are one of the biggest selling points. Single piece, hard styrene, excellent sculpts, with hardly any flash marks or cleaning up required. These are some of the best tabletop miniatures I’ve ever seen in a game, better than (yes, I’m saying it) Imperial Assault, my previous benchmark. The sculpts have been bulked up a little to allow for extra detail, but this just adds to the comic style, and (I’m hoping) their paintablility!


The first expansion set is the scenery booster which basically gives you hard plastic replacements for all of the card scenery and supply counters in the box. I would happily use these in any post apocalypse/modern game settings, and for twenty quid I would recommend that anyone who plays in these settings gets a set. They are an absolute bargain that will enhance any battlefield, with the same crisp lines and hard-shell construction that make the miniatures stand out. 


There are a couple of niggles. The dice do look a bit shabby, not quite cheap-and-nasty, but enough to detract from the overall quality of the game. It could be a deliberate attempt to get that overall world-falling-apart feel, but I doubt it. Disappointing given the overall high standard of the rest of the box, and ends up looking like corner-cutting. Similarly, the paper map is a bit basic. Nice print, but would it kill you to make it double sided for a bit of variety? Ultimately this is a tabletop game, so you can create your own battlefield, and scale it up as large as you like, but for beginners I would want a little more. Maybe you can just pull out that old Mars Attacks! map for a bit of size/visual variation…


This is a core set, and expansions are heading out thick and fast. For fans of The Walking Dead Comics, or even the TV show (spoiler alert: Daryl Dixon does not exist in the comic world…) this is a great bit of kit, well worth a little investment, and for gamers who are not yet quite sick of all the living dead games on the market this has simple and interesting mechanics, and enough replayability to nudge onto your table on a semi-regular basis. But you will want to pick up some expansions to keep it that way, and to collect all your favourite characters. But make sure you save those Mantic points up.

Seriously, Michonne and Abraham only available as collect-and-exchange bonus packs? A bit naughty if you ask me!


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Dave “Not Using The Z-Word Today” Mustill